Laura Melchor McCanlies is a strategic business technology leader with an entrepreneur’s passion for driving innovation by leveraging data analytics and digital transformation to enhance the customer experience and introduce new sources of revenue. With more than 30 years of experience, Laura has worked with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 250, across multiple industries including Professional Services, Pharmaceutical, Semiconductor, Engineering, and Impact Investment. Currently, Laura is the Chief of Technology and Analytics Division at IDB Invest, and she is leading the technology and data transformation at the organization. We wanted to get her thoughts on her career path, data analytics and transformation.
1. Your career path into an analytics focus looks a little non-traditional -- what led you to your current role, and do you see some of your non-analytics-focused previous roles complement your analytics expertise?
I started my career as an IT consultant at E&Y, I had just finished my MBA with a Computer Science background, and I was hired to map and streamline business processes; to integrate disconnected systems. When you are focusing on assessing current state, having data will help as part of your assessment. Building this capability allowed to think in two dimensions: process automation and root cause analysis by leveraging data. Because my background is in science and engineering, I also have a strong desire to know how things work, see patterns, and create hypothesis why somethings are or are not happening.
At TEL US, a semiconductor equipment manufacturer, my first role was in the ERP team as a Finance Business Analyst and later as an Application’s Shared Services Manager, I had a dual role, one for enterprise applications, and data warehousing/BI. At TEL, the use of data was and still is extremely important, in my last few years at TEL US I was part of a Senior Team that was focused on setting up a business model to monetize data. The value I provided was knowing the data well, because I knew the systems, the technology available in the market and data warehousing and having an analytics background helped me provide value.
After TEL US, my journey took me to Jacobs Engineering to setup the Business Intelligence function from ground up, after that I had two options, one to focus on IT or on Analytics and Data; I believe my value comes from connecting the dots, look for synergies when needed, and more importantly see information with a potential to be monetized. So, that helped me make my decision to join IDB Invest, this has allowed me to continue leading both functions from a strategic perspective while hiring a group of managers with deep expertise in Data Management and Analytics that will take us to the next level.
While the functions between Technology and Data/Analytics are different, there are also a lot of synergies between them, this is especially important when it refers to building trust on data. Some of the data may come from enterprise systems, external sources, and the quality of the it may be caused by errors in data entry, business process, or lack of systems. Having IT and the Analytics/Data Management report to me has helped increase communications between the two groups to resolve common issues of Data Quality and be agile. Analytics per se runs independently within our team, Data Management works closely with IT.
2. What do you think many business leaders get wrong about effective data analytics
We are still learning and maturing in this area, having the right talent and a plan for the end state is very important. The strategic plan is the first building block in this journey, having data the users can trust is also a major priority. For more advanced data analytics projects, we do Proofs of Concepts and learn from them, create use cases that have high user engagement.
3. In past presentations, you've emphasized the power of storytelling to drive transformation -- can you share an example where you saw storytelling enable or accelerate a transformation?
Data is an x-ray of how your organization or company is working, so if you want to drive change you set up the end operating model and you track it and then if you want to define new models of working or products, you need to measure and tell the story on how that is changing or transforming, most of my presentations to senior management, my team and IT Steering Committee have a lot of storytelling, 1) if I want to persuade for change using facts, 2) tell the value my team provides to the organization - to market your value and contribution to the company 3) show progress to keep the team motivated the team and help see the future and to get them inspired
4. Are there any technology trends or shifts that you think leaders should be aware of in the world of analytics?
Data virtualization, if you use Azure keep track of the new products made available, leverage vendors and products for ML or AI to start you journey in this area. Data Catalog tools in the market and using ML data cleansing.
Check out more of Laura's insights in the recorded version of SIM National's "IT Trends Series" that discussed the future of AI, ML, and analytics in organizations that took place on April 16th!